A study titled "Killer heat and migrant workers in the Gulf" has revealed that individuals engaged in prolonged manual labour in high temperatures experience severe kidney damage.
The study discovered that migrant workers in the Gulf states face adverse health effects as a result of the combination of extreme temperatures and harsh working conditions. Prolonged exposure to intense heat results in chronic health issues that require lifelong medical treatment.
The Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) organised a programme to present the findings at Akram Tower in Bijoynagar, Dhaka on Saturday.
The study was prepared by Vital Signs Partnership, which is a group of organisations working together to campaign for better protection for low-paid migrant workers in the Gulf states.
According to an unofficial estimate, about 5 million Bangladeshis are working in the Gulf states, namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Saudi Arabia. Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait.
Highlighting the subject of the report, RMMRU Executive Director Dr CR Abrar stated that global concern is growing regarding the development of kidney injury and chronic kidney disease (CKD) — a fatal, progressive loss of kidney function — in people who frequently perform physically demanding work in the heat.
"Many patients returning from the Gulf with kidney problems, attribute this to exposure to the heat and not consuming enough water to compensate for water lost as perspiration," he mentioned.
As per the report, approximately 10,000 expatriates from South and Southeast Asia die every year in the six Gulf states.
Alarmingly, half of these deaths are attributed to underlying causes that remain unexplained. Death certificates typically mention natural causes or cardiac arrest as the primary reason for these deaths.
Surprisingly, despite the significant risks involved, there is a lack of information regarding the impact of heat on workers. Moreover, no records exist regarding heat-related fatalities or deaths.
Regrettably, the cost of treatment (including dialysis and transplant) for conditions developed in the destination countries are passed on to the poor workers and their home countries.
The Gulf region already faces dangerously high night-time temperatures and frequent extremely hot days, as observed in June 2022. During the period, temperature dropped below 30ºC only 11 times out of 28 days, and was above 30ºC for 278 out of 290 night hours (between sunset and sunrise).
Abu Dhabi's number of days with temperatures exceeding 40ºC is projected to increase by 51% by mid-century with a 1.5ºC global temperature rise, and by 98% by the century's end with a 3ºC rise.
A 3ºC increase will see Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia experiencing 180 days out of 365 days where the temperature exceeds 40ºC by the end of the century.
Dr CR Abrar said, "As the already brutal heat is likely to get worse, the Gulf states need to step up their approach to protect the millions of migrant workers who are so crucial for their economies."
He positively views the inclusion of a dedicated session on the health effects of climate change at the Conference of the Parties (COP).
He remarked, "The UAE and other Gulf states should be prepared to address the appalling impact of their systematic failure to provide basic protection to the people whose labour sustains their extremely wealthy societies."
The report emphasised the necessity for improved strategies to safeguard individuals from excessive heat exposure. This entails providing suitable accommodation, ensuring proper nutrition, and granting access to healthcare services for workers.
Conducting a research study on the prevalence of early-stage kidney disease among low-wage migrant workers has also been suggested.
Instead of relying solely on fixed calendar dates, a risk-based approach is recommended for limiting workers' heat exposure.
Above all, employers must keep workers in cool and shaded areas to mitigate occupational hazards related to heat. Furthermore, they should ensure the availability of sufficient drinking water and fully air-conditioned accommodations at the workplace.